My First and Favorite Job
When I Used to Get Paid for Cleaning Toilets
It was 1984 and I was a sophomore in high school. A time of pastel polo shirts, socks with terry cloth striped cuffs, plastic earrings, and jeans with the waistband that hit somewhere around our rib cages. It cost money to look that cool. But since I appreciated children about as much as acne and algebra, babysitting wasn’t really in anyone’s best interests as a means for me to afford those new leather Nikes. Then a friend in the business, the custodial business, presented an offer I couldn’t refuse. She worked as a janitor after school at a warehouse down the road, and they were looking for another body to commandeer a vacuum cleaner, wipe down the break rooms, and remove objectionable substances from the porcelain in the bathrooms. I was in.
The warehouse was enormous, with the work floor on the first level and the offices at the top. The guys on the team primarily took care of the work floor, which involved mostly sweeping that space the size of a football field and emptying the big trash bins, while we of the XX chromosomes were in charge of the offices, bathrooms, and eating areas.
I can honestly say my days getting dusted in Ajax and scraping mustard off the tables were the highlight of my career. We told filthy jokes while emptying the mop buckets. We had toilet water fights. We tore around on those battery operated carts through the warehouse leaving a trail of cheap musk cologne in our wake. We would flash the guards on the security cameras. We folded ourselves into a ball of denim and puffy sweaters and rode the shuddering freight elevator on a dare. We quoted John Hughes movies with admirable accuracy and timing. We’d turn off the lights in the upstairs cafeteria, crank Journey and Foreigner on the boom box, and watch the snow outside swirl around the parking lot. We had the golden key to the tampon dispenser which, it turned out, also worked at the one at the school.
I walked out of work every night with a sense of satisfaction that everything was done and that things were in an improved state from when I first clocked in. I had a check for about $80 waiting for me every other week. That was a freakin’ fortune in the mid-eighties for a high school student. I never had to ask my parents for money. I’d like to say I socked that money away for tuition or a car, but it was spent largely on Burger King, movies, clothes, stuffed animals, and cigarettes.
The only negative aspect of that job I can think of is when we had to sweep the boiler room about once a week. It wouldn’t have been so bad had A Nightmare on Elm Street not been so fresh in our minds. We skidded our brooms around those hissing pipes and greenish lighting at warp speed, convinced the entire time Freddy Krueger was waiting around the corner to kill us with our own cleaning implements in unique and terrible ways.
Now I ride a regular elevator and leave work at night knowing things are considerably worse than when I first walked in, and will be messier yet in the morning. The movie I quote now is Office Space, only it’s so accurate and applicable that it really isn’t funny.
And the toilets I clean are at home and I damn sure don’t get paid for it.